The Facebook Founder’s Sinister and Unethical Hundred Million Dollar Gift

When is a hundred million dollar gift to help schools unethical?

It is unethical when it represents the power of money taking control of government. It is unethical when it induces politicians to breach their duty to obey the law. It is unethical when it demonstrates that the principles of democracy and law can be bought, sold, and distorted for a price.

In a shocking development last week that received very little thoughtful or critical coverage from the news media, Facebook mogul and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg gave the Newark schools $100 million in return for dictating how the schools are run. Zuckerberg, backed by Oprah Winfrey, another billionaire, who put the school governance sale on her TV show,  wants Newark Mayor Cory Booker to run them.  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who also appeared on the strange Oprah segment, has agreed in principle to make Booker the overseer of his city’s infamously bad school system. As for the fact that a New Jersey statute doesn’t allow the governor to put the mayor of a city in charge of its schools once the state has taken over control of them, well, money, not the law, rules in New Jersey, and that appears to be just dandy according to the state’s governor, Zuckerberg, Oprah, Republicans, Newark parents, news editors and citizens.

Meanwhile, that whirring sound you hear is Thomas Jefferson spinning in his grave.

A state senator calls this deal a “public/private partnership.” No, it is an example of how wealthy individuals can dictate government policy in defiance of process, the legislature and the voters when public officials are strapped by inadequate budgets, leaders have no principles they will stand up for in a crisis, voters are apathetic, and the media is slow-witted and negligent. Make no mistake: Zuckerberg, with an undetermined assistance from Oprah, wrote a big check to put the Mayor of Newark in charge of the Newark schools, circumventing the law, due process, and the legislature. This is far worse that the more common and much-condemned buying of votes by lobbyists—at least then there is a vote. Zuckerberg is directly buying governmental authority and policy regarding education, and cutting out the messy business of buying votes.

The heck with votes; the heck with laws—just make Newark’s and New Jersey’s budget squeeze better, and presto! Zuckerberg gets to call the shots! It isn’t technically a bribe for Gov. Christie, because the money doesn’t go into his campaign account or personal funds (Note to Christine O’Donnell: yes, these are supposed to be different things…). Still, brokering the no tax, no cuts solution to one of the state’s big problems helps his political standing, popularity and career prospects, all of which are worth their weight in gold to an ambitious politician like Christie.

Zuckerberg has other motives. The new Facebook movie makes him look juuust a little sleazy. And he undoubtedly cares about the schoolchildren of Newark, just like George Soros cares about establishing national health care. If Soros offers to put eliminate a big chunk of the U.S. debt with his own funds, should we let him dictate U.S. health care policy? What if he eliminates all of our debt? (Nobody is that rich today, but let’s pretend he could; J.P. Morgan did bail out the U.S. Treasury during the Cleveland Administration. ) Would we turn over the keys of H.H.S to Soros then? Why not?If the administration of Newark schools are for sale despite laws to the contrary, why stop there?

New Jersey Assembly Education Committee Chairman Patrick Dignan said, “Let’s be honest. No one in their right mind will turn their back on $100 million, but clearly that is the carrot attached to the stick.”  Really? No one in their right mind will resist a billionaire attempting to buy policy control that was never approved by the voters?

I think that’s pretty frightening.

In times of economic pressures, the people with a lot of money have enhanced power, and the ability to abuse it elected officials, the public and the media stand by smiling and applauding, like Christie, Booker and Oprah did last week. Zuckerberg’s power play is a test for our democracy, and whether we really believe in government by the people, or are willing to sell that scared principle if the price is right. Some New Jersey citizens are threatening to take Christie to court if Mayor Booker gets any say in how the Newark schools are run, and I hope they do. If not, it appears that our principles, policies and right to self-government are for sale to the highest bidder.

3 thoughts on “The Facebook Founder’s Sinister and Unethical Hundred Million Dollar Gift

  1. I think it’s important to note that the statute against the mayor of Newark running the public schools emanated from a STATEWIDE REFERENDUM — that is, the voting public made this decision.

    It wasn’t the state legislature, it was the voting public that made this decision, which makes the decision by the governor all the more ugly. Isn’t it outright illegal for her to accept the gift with the strings attached? Unethical positively, but it MUST be illegal. Why isn’t the state attorney general doing something about this? Why aren’t the voters outraged? Even if it was the statte legislature, it still would be illegal. But it is all the more shocking that she would go against the will of the people who elected her to get money — regardless of the amount. Is New Jersey up for sale? How many millions will it take to buy another part of the Garden State? Or will it just take hundred of thousands? Or tens of thousands?

    This is clearly an ethical issue, but it’s also a legal issue.

    Who has the courage to stand up to this?

    Is the court system too cowed to take what is clearly the appropriate steps to reverse Governor Christie’s decision?

    What in the world does Oprah Winfrey think she’s doing? Who endowed her with such power?

    How far have we fallen?

    This is really depressing…

      • How exactly does the gender of the N.J. Governor change the analysis? It doesn’t. Elizabeth is quite right about the referendum, and it might well be illegal to accept such a gift, as she says. In fact, a commenter could have the wrong state, the wrong Governor, the wrong gender and the wrong tycoon, and it still wouldn’t invalidate the analysis. This is an ethics site. We try to get the facts right, but that’s not what we’re here for.

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